A quiet, introspective technique of self-healing:

The fragile yet  strong figures by Vally Nomidou

The new figures by Vally Nomidou, in the same evolutionary path of the last decade, shock because they reveal the intensity of their creation. The figures betray an unbearable process of self-knowing, an existential condition through the convergence of art and life.

The exhibition, entitled “Let it bleed“, is a series of life-size sculptures, as well as a series of fragments, such as heads or hands, all made of paper. The works depict young women and young girls. The female figures impress with the naturalness of their features and poses, the perfection of modelling and the beauty of volume.

Paper, Nomidou’s dominant material, now becomes a key component in her creative process, inextricably linked to painful and systematic research on the technical level, as well as on that of aesthetic integration. The artist respects her material and, although it is cheap and vulnerable, she does not “adulterate” it by using other materials. Moreover, she does not use it as a shell, an encasing to cover a necessary inner structure by providing a fake, idealised skin. Nomidou builds and shapes her works from the inside out solely using paper and paperboard. The internal cardboard frame is built with a vertical and horizontal grid in order to be able to support and render stillness in her sculptures, while also ensuring balance in  contraction and expansion. The homogeneity of her material allows the equilibrium in the behaviour of the interior and the exterior, and thus ensures its duration.

Regarding her technique, the perfect rendition of facial features, of expression, of the naturalness of pose, of body proportions, is based on a process of combining partial plaster casts, the meticulous observation of an exhaustive photographic documentation of her sitters and a painful processing of the outer skin. The perfect prints are synthesised, cut, sewn, glued, rubbed, and through the mastery of her touch achieve the fully realistic rendering of her sitters.

Her creative approach has a strong element of reduction, using electric sanders, as well as by the paper added from the toolbox of her “kitchen”, depending on the anatomical needs of different areas. Her materials are simple and humble, such as cardboard, paper, wire, paper towels, newspapers, handmade paper, PVA medium, and white wood glue. Her hands guide the creation of the volumes, inside and out, while the glue connects the various layers of paper. Another interesting point is that the colour is not added, but acquired through the use of the colours and various shades of colour and qualities of the paper itself.

At a technical level, Nomidou seems to undermine the perfection of anatomy and realism, with cuts, tears, openings, revealing the internal structure of the work, which sometimes develops externally, too. The skin of the figures is obtained from the accumulation of a guided stratification. This stratigraphy is evident, highlighting the qualities of paper, the transparencies and colours, as regular cuts are imposed on the smooth surface with openings, wounds, abscesses, abrasions, or wires coming out from the interior. These palimpsests, on the one hand, contribute to the truthfulness of forms and, on the other, reveal the intense feeling of pain and a patient, enduring acceptance.

Moreover, the artist links the values of her plastic forms with an imposed sense of non-finito, of the deliberately incomplete, the half-finished, in favour of the total, where the form sometimes verges on the real and sometimes reveals the decaying nature of its existence. This element is also not due to a tendency to impress, or an arbitrary expressionistic articulation. It is dictated by the authenticity of her art, where the inside is part of the outside, urging the viewer to look inside. It should be noted, here, the artist’s sincerity and respect, her commitment to capturing a specific aesthetic and concept through both medium and technique.

Thus, Nomidou’s figures coexist in space, with the similarities and shared features which characterise them with respect to technical, aesthetic and conceptual development. The figures – quiet, silent, their eyes closed – stand detached, their introversion prevailing. Solitary creatures, with an inclination towards the inner, the intimate, the hermetic, where the pain, although intense, remains silent and internalised.

The works exist through the contrasts of their very creation. The antithetical elements are beauty and the repulsive. Sorrow and pain are tempered by additional materials, such as transparent fabrics, precious stones, paper lace and ribbons. Moreover, the cheap exists side by side with the precious, the vulnerable with the robust, the authentic with the eccentric, realism with flights of fantasy and psychological repercussions. At the same time, extreme realism, combined with hints of the absurd, open up her inquiry.

Each figure has its own special multi-level development. The great “red”, or “mended-decorated” stands upright, dumbfounded, while cardboard wounds come out on site on the left foot. The other youthful figure, with the movement of the hands, allows the inner wiring to grow out in space, with emphasis on the legs, creating formations like inner, tortuous vines that fill the floor. Sometimes, the figures are not supported on their feet, but follow their “luck”, their personal “solutions of supporting their being”, as the hunched little girl, leaning against the wall, or the “angels” who seems to be flying and falling, swirling and struck his legs on iron bars, or the sad little girl resting on stilts.

At the philosophical level, Vally Nomidou seems to have a background in Existentialism, Phenomenology and the Freudian psychoanalytical view of the unconscious. Jean Paul Sartre’s sayings in his work Existentialism is a Humanism, such as “Existence precedes essence”, or “We must start from the subjective”, or even “We are condemned to be free”, from his Notebooks for an Ethics, could provide the artist’s theoretical conceptual options for her art. Furthermore, the phenomenological method introduced by the French philosopher in his Being and nothingness, with the notion that “The being of something that exists is what it seems”, or “Is that of seeming” fits into her art. At the same time, the whole creative process, and the resulting creative production, seem to want to reconcile her figures with their “unconscious impulses” in accordance with Freud’s theory.

Combining, once again, antithetical philosophical concepts helps her to construct a personal condition that determines her sculptural pursuit in different areas, with dominant that of the dual representation of the inside and the outside, of a realism open to fantasy and the representation of the mute physical and mental pain. Her tools are the subtle balances between subjective and objective, the soft and the blatant, pain and serenity. Thus, her female figures are characterised by irrationality and symptomaticity.

Entering areas of phenomenology, exploring how the external reality appears to humans, and the effort to investigate phenomena as conscious experiences beyond certainties and preconceptions, certainly occupy her thought and enter into her work. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Paris in 1945, in his study on the Phenomenology of perception refers to reality, which varies very specifically depending on the situation. In Vally’s sculptures, this view can be identified in both the intensity of execution and the attitude of passive submission in her figures.

The simple statement by Kiki Smith (1954) that, “The body is the common denominator and the stage for our pleasures and our sorrows. I want to express through the body who we are, how we live and die”, also applies to the Greek artist’s approach, since she, too, passionately explores various existential anxieties in her sculptures.

On viewing Nomidou’s works come to mind Belgian artists, such as the artist Thierry de Cordier (1954) from Ostend –  whose work was censored at Outlook, an exhibition mounted during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games – and Berlinde de Bruyckere (1964) from Ghent. The comparison does not focus so much on similarities in their aesthetic propositions as on some sort of affinity in the highlighting of a blatant existential condition, in a specific philosophical framework, as well as in the fact that, in their works, art and life converge.

The sculptures in this exhibition function as a single environment, with passages from work to work, with quiet areas and peaks. A restrained theatricality created by special lighting and the arrangement of the group, enhance the intention of evoking a total experiential situation. What is ultimately highlighted is Vally Nomidou’s a dual effort to capture at the same time the physical reality of her figures and their inner state in this dual path from outside to inside, and mainly from the interior to the outer skin, exposing the psyche of the figures through the investigation of an extreme existential condition. The process resembles a bilateral relationship of “self-healing”.

Vally Nomidou’s fragile yet monumental sculptural figures represent a perfectly valid artistic proposition. Her arduous, sincere investigation on both the theoretical and practical levels achieves a harmonious integration of concept, aesthetics and technique. For all these reasons, these “wounded” creatures, these shocking yet poetic figures, are an important, complete, original proposal for a contemporary Greek neo-figurative sculpture in the early 21st century.

Dr Lina Tsikouta-Deimezi

Curator, National Gallery

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